Kramer on Theory: Rebuttal and a Defense
To the Editor:
Jason Schneiderman’s article [G&LR, Jan.-Feb. 09] about my article [Sept.-Oct. 09] certainly shows a great deal of work. I wish I could understand it as something more than what I have come to name all queer studies: gobbledygook. You people do seem to find unlimited ways to obfuscate the obvious. Perhaps my answer to the David Halperin question that you ask [“Does the ‘pæderast,’ the classical Greek adult, married male who periodically enjoys sexually penetrating a male adolescent, share the same sexuality with the ‘berdache’…?”] will make my point more clear: Yes, I do think that all the people he lists are homosexuals: the Greek “pæderast,” the Native American “berdache,” the New Guinea tribesman and warrior, etc., etc.
I do believe in the “universality of homosexuality,” and from the beginning of history. All this other shit you and others continue to lay on top of this simple definition is wearying, annoying, and retrograde. And it’s the greatest inhibitor to our progress as a people. I too am unhappy with the word “gay.” But it is not as loaded as you guys have made “queer.” In a strange way, “homosexual” is beginning to sound good again!
Larry Kramer, New York City
To the Editor:
It’s hard for me to figure out how Larry Kramer so offended Jason Schneiderman with his article, “Queer Theory’s Heist of Our History.” Of course, I have my own theory of what we’re all about that lifts the veil on queerdom to illuminate a more vivid purpose for our existence than our seeming to negate the straight ones’ “moral excuses” for human sexuality, which is why they hate us. I’m quite convinced that without us, human civilization would never have progressed beyond the hunting-gathering phase. Who, after all, comprised the shamans who still spiritually lead the few remaining primitive populations that precede any civilized community? Who first sewed and wove the skins and cloth to hide cave dwellers’ beguiling genitals? Who first did their hair and taught them how to shave? Who invented their language, their arts, and their sensitivities?
Somehow, evolution kept our numbers low enough per generation (probably 1/8) not to threaten populations with extinction. However, if we now collectively hold our heads up higher, and stick our wizard’s wands up bigots’ asses, I think that Larry wouldn’t need to so insist that Washington and Lincoln were gay. In any case, they learned everything they valued most from us—including democracy—which flourishes best when Christian family life doesn’t elevate itself into Royal/Papal Oppression by the Richest of the Rich.
Larry and I go way back, by the way, to days in the Pines when we shared an amour (on whom he based the character of “Mikey” in Faggots). It was Larry who first warned us against something called GRID. Mikey died from it. Thank God, Larry didn’t. Despite the high levels of angst I know that Larry suffers, possibly because of his strange views, in my even stranger view of history and letters, he can do no wrong, and never has.
Marshall Yaeger, New York City
An Alternative Theory for Gay Evolution
To the Editor:
Patricia Nell Warren [in “‘Ardi’ and Human Sexual Evolution, Jan.-Feb. 10]resurrected E. O. Wilson’s 1975 argument that same-sex orientation might be inherited, because it confers a paradoxical form of fitness in evolution.
Wilson proposed that genes for homophilia, if they exist, are passed down by the breeder relatives of gay and lesbian humans (whom he assumed are usually childless). These genes don’t cause a switch in a breeder’s sexual orientation, but are propagated until a small percentage of offspring are carriers of a set of homo-favoring genes. With each new generation, these genes would be invited back into the gene pool because of the evolutionary benefits of altruism. In drought years, the funny uncles and anomalous aunts—mostly barren queer-as-kinfolk—would forego their own nourishment so the little buggers—both the latent and overt carriers of the gay genes—could have a good chance of survival.
E. O. Wilson apparently understood little about gay, lesbian, and trans existence, and what little he may have indeed understood he threw under that axe he had to grind—the sheer cleverness of his scheme for reproducing by not-reproducing. He wasn’t as motivated to provide us with the fundamental meaning of same-sex orientation as he was with adding another arrow to his quiver of evidence for altruism in ants and other animals.
Wilson—and Warren—assumes that being same-sex oriented exacts a significant penalty towards reproduction. As a practical matter, if Wilson’s model were valid, evolution would not have given us same-sex love but instead a high incidence of sterility among heterosexuals, and this is clearly not the case. Meanwhile, Wilson’s theory is naïve about the actual sociobiology of sexual outcasts. Their experience is by no means limited to a choice of sexual partner, because of the deadly potential of homophobia.
Over twenty years ago, I proposed that if there are gay genes, they are responsible for triggering a wide range of behavioral deviations that act as a lightning-rod for homophobic aggression. In men, it could be a speech tic, a tendency to female-identified gestures, an aversion to sports or aggressive activities, shading all the way to true transgenderism. For gay women, the corresponding masculine behaviors may be perceived. Wilson’s theory is silent about all this. It only says that natural selection should reward sterility—not an ability to survive the most outrageous persecution.
I propose that same-sex love and its motley constellation of deviances exist throughout human history for only one reason: to guarantee the persistence of homophobia—which I ultimately believe has been indispensable to the survival of the race. I know that will come as something of a shock, but please hear me out.
Considering that human history is pretty much the story of one war giving way to the next, homophobia evolved to exclude gay males from the army. The three wildly different kinds of traits I mentioned—gender-variant behaviors, an innate disinclination toward or incompetence for sports and warfare, and a capacity for ruthless same-sex sexual predation, coupled with the alarming nature of anal sex—represent differing strategies for avoiding and thus surviving the war du jour. Meanwhile, on the battlefield straight males are slaughtering each other until almost no one is left alive.
Humanity has survived until now by the grace of our supporting uncles and aunts, but the reason they were so important is not because they were eunuchs. Rather, they were important because they were alive. The incompetent gay draftees were sent home from the training fields long before the battle even started. Once a whole tribe’s warriors were wiped out, the community survived because of its precious wild-card: its berdaches, its Neanderthal florists and choir directors, and its macho Flintstone sluts. With most of the tribe’s young men dead, there was no longer anything standing between the army’s widows and a marriageable winkte, who was perfectly capable of fathering and raising children. The muscular general once discharged for Stone Age sodomy would come in mighty handy when a conquering army headed for the village. Again, I will give very short shift to lesbians here, but it almost goes without saying how valuable lesbian smartness and toughness on the one hand would be, when combined with an ability to romantically bond to a widow and her family on the other.
This theory definitively accounts for the breathtaking virulence of homophobia. If homophobia were either infrequent or non-threatening, there would be no need for it to exist. Sociobiologically speaking, homophobia exists for only two reasons: to exclude a few men from every generation’s warrior parties, or to drive them out into all-male work camps of their own making (for more on the latter, I refer you to Jonathan Ned Katz’s lifework). In order to withstand the mania of each draft to otherwise snap up every last able-bodied man, it had to evolve into a very powerful social force.
Mitchell Santine Gould, Portland, OR
Black Homophobia Not Experienced
To the Editor:
The Guest Opinion column by Lerone Landis in the November-December 2009 issue about blacks lacking standing on marriage questions prompted this response. Landis makes the assumption that blacks have a “longstanding reputation as deeply homophobic.” I am not sure that is the case.
In 1967, I bought a house in an entirely black neighborhood in the South End of Boston with my lesbian partner. (And if you couldn’t figure out that we were a lesbian couple, you had absolutely no gaydar.) We were welcomed by our neighbors, who thanked us for fixing up the property. These were largely middle-class black families who owned their own homes on the block, and apparently couldn’t have cared less that we were lesbians. One family invited us to come roller-skating with them, which we declined because neither of us could.
In the same era, I had gotten to know Bertha and Ceelie, an older black lesbian couple who lived in Roxbury. They were very active in their church and sang in the choir. When Ceelie died, I went to her funeral and was struck by the entire congregation comforting Bertha. It was very clear that they knew their relationship and accepted it. I was touched to my heart. Most white churches in that time would not even have considered being open to GLBT people.
Another friend of mine from that time was John White, a black gay man who lived in Egleston Square. Every summer John had a cookout in his backyard and invited all of his gay and lesbian friends along with his whole family. Everyone had a good time, and there was no tension or division between John’s friends and family.
During that time, I had no problem saying to a black man who was hitting one me, “Sorry, I don’t dig men,” and having him say, “Okay, no problem.” I don’t think I could make that response now.
My experience with the black community in Boston at that time may have been unique, but I don’t think it was. I believe the homophobia that has infected this community was brought into it by white evangelists who discovered that homophobia was a good fund-raiser for their cause, and who infected black churches with it. It is indeed a sad outcome, but not, I believe, the result of any longstanding homophobia in the black community.
Barbara Hoffman, Boston
Cavafy Always Worth Another Read
To the Editor:
Alfred Corn’s review of the latest of many English translations of C. P. Cavafy’s poems (“A New Cavafy is Born,” Sept.-Oct. 09) reminds us that Cavafy’s work, unlike that of many writers, can be translated more than once every generation and continue to find an enthusiastic audience. Only in the “Batman” film franchise do we see crowds so eagerly anticipating yet another interpretation of such familiar material.
I discovered Cavafy in my teens, while coming to terms with my sexual and romantic attraction to other boys. Even post-Stonewall, shame and self-loathing still haunted us, as they haunt many young people today. We met Cavafy through the then-popular Keeley and Sherrard translation, and warmed to the poet’s gently sensuous celebration of same-sex love.
In 1914, while in Alexandria befriending Cavafy, E. M. Forster wrote Maurice. He was 88 when homosexuality was decriminalized in England, in 1967, removing the one condition he had placed on its posthumous publication. He had spent most of his life believing that the book would never be read outside of his close circle of friends. (Maurice was published in 1971, a year after Forster’s death.)
One of the many inspiring features of Cavafy’s work in any language or translation is its optimistic prescience. His 1908 poem “Hidden” concludes with this comment on his attempts to conceal his true nature (quoted here from the Mendelsohn translation reviewed by Mr. Corn): “The most unnoticed of my actions, and the most covert of all my writings: from these alone will they come to know me. But perhaps it’s not worth squandering so much care and trouble on puzzling me out. Afterwards—in some more perfect society—someone else who’s fashioned like me will surely appear and be free to do as he pleases.”
Thus, 101 years ago, Cavafy anticipated gay liberation, in a way that his friend Forster could not.
Steve Susoyev, San Francisco
Locating Cronin’s Memorial
To the Editor:
I was surprised to find the sculpture of Patricia Cronin, Memorial to a Marriage, gracing the cover of the latest Gay & Lesbian Review. However, I was even more surprised that nowhere in the interview with Ms. Cronin is the fact mentioned that the sculpture is found in the famed Woodlawn Cemetery in the NYC’s Bronx.
I think the Review does it readers a disservice by neglecting that fact! That sculpture draws thousands of visitors to Woodlawn—a GLBT fact that needs to be more widely known. Nestled among famed artists, politicians, and captains of industry in elaborate mausoleums is the simple, elegant sculpture in homage to a lesbian relationship. The guards and guest services staff at Woodlawn are more than happy to steer visitors to this sculpture and to provide assistance with finding any other resting place on its extensive grounds.
Thank you, Review, for your continued “exhuming” of all things GLBT!
Greg S. Rider, New York City
A Little Sympathy for the Gay Writer
To the Editor:
Regarding David Bergman’s “Do We Need Gay Literature?” in the Jan.-Feb. issue, the last lines for me, the most pertinent: “But we are entering a much less glitzy, far less self-satisfied era. Poverty is not the enemy of art, especially a minor literature whose most fertile ground is diversity.” I appreciate that Dr. Bergman is calling for us to look to the artists who are outside the circles he describes throughout the body of the article (with the exception of Lee Williams’ After Nirvana), but poverty—as even tough old Hemingway stated—is the enemy of art if you are the artist who is poor. Contrary to cliché, poverty does not help the creative spirit, although sometimes the power of that urge can overcome terrible obstacles.
The article mostly refers to upper- or upper-middle class gay or well-connected writers who enjoy a cohort of the comfortable, and may brush elbows with encouraging contacts, and come more easily to the attention of publishers. For all writers, especially poets, the current æsthetic of the universities tends to determine what poets will be published in the small market available for serious writing, mostly university-based journals. We don’t have a WPA program for gay poets who are outside the coteries that will receive attention, and funding. There are successful gay magazines, purchased by, portraying, and sustained by the “glitzy” and “self-satisfied,” and too shallow for our best writing. There are only two gay magazines for quality writing—and that is a terribly small field for new poets: White Crane Journal (suitable only if you’re into “gay spirituality”; atheists need not apply) and The Gay & Lesbian Review—not much space for those taking first steps toward introducing their voices. We all know that it is “connections” that count—usually accidental, a matter of luck.
For any artist, selling their art becomes half of their work time eventually, and how much time can be spared by an obscure writer concerned with food and shelter. There is no gay network reaching those who might really nourish a new “gay literature.” The art world, including the gay art world, is provincial in the sense that it is identified with New York or Boston or some small “province” where a small clique is happy to minimize competition in such a small market. I cannot imagine a solution—unless we find a gay George Soros? Or perhaps a foundation endowed by some of our prosperous gay poets suffering from boredom in Paris or wherever they are partying and recording each other in their journals this year? True, I am another one of those poets with a couple hundred verses that no one wants. Ha! But I think it is true that if we want new gay literature, we need to find more publishers so that such a literature can come to be and endure. But, of course, money rules.
James Eilers, Oakland, CA
The Search Is Over for Victor Garcia
To the Editor:
Last year [Jan.-Feb. 09 issue], you published my piece “Where in the World is Victor Garcia,” which detailed my attempts to trace the heirs to the George Quaintance estate. As a result of that, many of the people who were named in the story contacted me—remarkable, considering that those names came from a forty-year-old scrapbook, and these people were adults at the time. Those phone calls and e-mails brought me much new information, and I was able to bring together many old friends who had lost touch with each other decades ago. But the best part was the phone call I got one Sunday morning, many months later. It was the nephew of Victor Garcia himself! Thank you so much.
Ken Furtado, Phoenix
Casting Doubt: A Correction
To the Editor:
In Ari Karpel’s profile of Cherry Jones in your final issue of 2009, he erroneously reported that thespian and lesbian Cherry Jones was passed over for Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius for the film version of Doubt by playwright John Patrick Shanley. In reality, after Shanley wrote his own screenplay based on the stage version, he decided that in order to bring a completely fresh perspective to the drama, he would not use any of the actors who appeared in the original stage play. Therefore, to say that Ms. Jones was “passed over” is misleading.
Ben Edward Akerley, Los Angeles
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